Tuesday, 15 November 2011


The Oblate Fathers were the Roman Catholic missionaries among the First Nation peoples of British Columbia - they evangelized throughout the nineteenth century and it was their presence which gave the town of Mission (about 60 miles east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley) its name. By the time that I was born, the town was fairly prosperous and had become the 'market center' for that part of the Valley.

There was no sign of an Oblate Mission by the time that I was there. Instead there was a Benedictine Monastery and church, "Christ the King". This monastery was formed by men who came to Mission from the Benedictine Monastery in Portland, Oregon.


I have removed my original photo of the monastery and replaced it with one taken by Michael W. in Vancouver - a better image! This is the Cathedral Church of Christ the King.

In my blog about 'Union College' I mentioned the Anglican College nearby and that there was a Roman Catholic enclave as well. This was solely a residence for Catholic students at U.B.C. - the seminary was Christ the King in Mission.

At some time in each year the three student bodies would gather together for a study week and these would be rotated between the three seminaries. This was how I came to spend a few days at the Mission campus - and to experience monastic life for the first time.

The seminary and the church are relatively new and, it seems, construction is ongoing. The church and adjoining structures are near the brow of a hill which offers a breathtaking view of that part of the Fraser Valley eastward towards the Coast Mountains and south to the majestic 'ice cream sundae' that is Mount Baker in Washington State.

One of the monks was Brother Dunstan - a gifted artist - and his very beautiful work adorns that campus. His medium was tempura paints.

                        Thanks to Michael W. in Vancouver, here is a clearer photo of Mt. Baker

As I mentioned, the Abbey sits on the brow of a hill. Below is part of the town of Mission, the Upper Fraser Valley and, in the background, the Coast Mountains. These two photos were taken from slightly different angles. If you click to enlarge the first photo you will vaguely see the white bulge to the right of the descending ridge. That 'bulge' is Mount Baker. 

During the daylight hours we attended lectures on various subjects and, at mealtime in the refectory, we observed the Vow of Silence.

Dan Matheson used a monastery, St Benoit-du-Lac at Magog in the Eastern Townships of Quebec (15 miles southwest of Sherbrooke), as the planning session for he and his assistant at the beginning of each church year (i.e. in September).

As well as a retreat and a study center, the monastery is a working farm producing much of the food to be found on the refectory table. Also, like another monastery at Oka, Quebec, the monks make prize winning cheeses out of the milk gathered from dairy cows and goats. At St Benoit-du-Lac the best cheese (in my book) is the blue cheese and there was some on the table at each meal.

A footnote - I purchased a small wedge of a cheddar cheese the other day and at my local supermarket. When I went to cut a small piece I noticed the brand name on the wrapper - "Saint Augustin" - and just below that in smaller type is a photo of the monastery and 'Saint Benoit de Lac'. Reading that pleased me no end. 

Meals were eaten in silence - after the blessing had been asked - while one of the monks would be reading from a book or an article. He was not eating while we were but sitting on a stool in a corner of the room. He read in French - which I am not at all fluent in understanding. One time he was reading and, suddenly, the diners would chuckle or guffaw. When we left the table and were allowed to talk I asked Dan, "What was that all about?" He explained that the monk was reading from a book about the 'Six Day War' between the Israelis and the Palestinians - and adding his own footnotes along the way. It was at those that the listeners were laughing!

As I said, the meal was eaten in silence so, if a diner wanted something that was out of reach, he would just point and it would be passed to him.

By the way, women were allowed to stay in the monastery too but their rooms were in a separate wing and they dined separately from the Brothers.

I have had a number of wonderful experiences in my life - not the least of which are the brief visits to monasteries.

1 comment: